Los Lobos, three-time Grammy Award winners from Southern California, popularized a border-crossing sound in the early 1980s that fused elements of Mexican and American cultures while maintaining a respect for traditional musical forms and genres. Meanwhile, the three Garza brothers known as Los Lonely Boys, whose hit song “Heaven” from their eponymous titled debut album scored them their first Grammy Award in 2005, were all born in the years when Los Lobos was beginning to release its first albums.
“It was a dream come true to be on tour with Los Lobos,” said Henry Garza, the Los Lonely Boys’ guitarist and vocalist. His band will headline the Paramount Center for the Arts, Thursday, Sept. 4, in Peekskill. “For as long as we have been listening to music, they have been our teachers. When [Los Lobos front man] David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas first asked us to back them on some of their songs on stage, I couldn’t believe it. Then the other members of the band wanted to jam with us during our set. It was beautiful; something I’ll never forget.”
While it may seem that success has come somewhat quickly for Los Lonely Boys, they are actually musical veterans in their own right, having spent nearly two decades honing their craft.
Born in Snyder, Texas and raised in nearby San Angelo, a small city in the middle of the state’s cotton growing region, the three Garza brothers – Henry (now 30), bassist and vocalist Jojo (28) and drummer Enrique, known as “Ringo” (27) – were surrounded by music from the start. Their father, Enrique Garza, Sr., co-founded the prominent conjunto group Los Falcones in the 1970s and 1980s, also performing with his brothers, and when the band broke up he set out on his own, backed by his three sons, who were all still in middle school at the time.
“Our parents got divorced when we were all young, but my brothers and I spent a lot of time with him,” said Henry Garza. “He basically taught us how to play our instruments. I started on guitar when I was about four, playing along with Ray Charles and boogie-woogie records, and imitating the ‘Peter Gunn’ riff. We all wanted to grow up to be just like dad, though. He sang all kinds of songs, and we thought he wrote them all.”
Working behind their dad throughout their teens, traveling for weeks at a time and playing one-nighters at one roadhouse or social hall after another, taught the Garza brothers a lot about the music business and gave them quite an education to boot. “By the time I was in sixth and seventh grade, I really didn’t have much in common with the kids I was sitting next to in class,” said Garza. “They would be hanging out at dances on the weekends, listening to hip-hop, and I’d be riding around with my dad and brothers, heading to a gig. We literally struggled to survive, and came through it all as a family. Believe me, nobody has your back like a brother.”
After moving to Nashville in the late 1990s, Los Lonely Boys were discovered by none other than Willie Nelson, who brought the band to his recording studio in Austin to record their first album in 2003. By then, the group’s sound was a smart mix of hard rock and roots, with Henry’s sizzling guitar work earning comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The first album was actually released on independent Or Records in 2003, and then picked up by the Sony affiliate Epic Records the following year.
“I didn’t know anything about girls, but that’s what my dad seemed to be always singing about,” he said.
The album spotlighted a band that produces gritty blues-drenched rockers and melodic ballads, with vocal arrangements that feature all three brothers singing, often together. Many of the songs shift between lyrics in English and Spanish, which, Garza, said, is a deliberate attempt at bridging cultures.
“We’re also trying to keep our roots alive,” he said.
“We like to thank our parents for letting us experience the big world out there from an early age,” said Garza. “There were also a lot of other opportunities we missed out on, though, because of our circumstances. More and more, we see it as our job to teach people how to help each other.”